What happens when you mix sustainable innovation with limited access to education?

Yaa Baah BL2

When Eric Ansah Yirenki of Good News International School enrolled in the IDPRS Program, he was trying to figure out how he could increase the number of students able to obtain an education, while also increasing income to ensure teachers were paid on time and in full.

November 26, 2014

The 2008 Education Act (Act 778) made provisions for free and compulsory basic education as well as private participation in the provision of education at all levels. As a result we saw an increase in the rise in the number of low-cost private schools across Ghana in order to support the rapid influx of students attending school and ensure full implementation of the policy. The Ghana Poverty Reduction Strategy at the time, suggested that reaching children in rural deprived areas will require more innovative approaches that take into account the harsh environments by which these families live, as the government’s reach was very limited in these areas.

The IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRS) works with a number of proprietors who enroll into our program to gain access to capital in a sustainable way so they can best serve rural and deprived districts. The goal of our training is not only to ensure stability of these low-cost private schools through proper management, but also to equip proprietors with skills to overcome additional adversity when faced with difficult school management decisions.  What works for one school may not work for the other,  so our microfinance partner Sinapi Aba Trust enables school owners to best decide, based on their community structure, what kind of school collection fees they should be applying to their process as well as how to best generate additional income.

When Eric Ansah Yirenki of Good News International School enrolled in the IDPRS Program, he was trying to figure out how he could increase the number of students able to obtain an education, while also increasing income to ensure teachers were paid on time and in full. Located in the deprived district of Asawinso Wiawso, Eric decided it would be best if he made the tuition free for the nursery school in order to increase enrollment, and raise canteen fees to 1 cedi a day. Parents in his community were more likely to pay for a nutritional meal for their child than they were to pay their term fees on time. By doing this, he increased his student population from 150 to 400 students and has been able to maintain financial stability through the generation of a more reliable financial stream. Eric is now able to pay his teachers’ salaries on time and feels confident knowing that Good News International School can sustainably educate hundreds of students for years to come. Eric is now looking at ways to provide additional training to his teachers and staff in order to increase the quality of education the children in his school receive.

Will a teacher crisis prevent accomplishment of the MDGs and EFA?

Sunyani_Promise Excellence School_teacher helping student at chalkboard

The education sector is experiencing a teacher crisis that if left unaddressed could prevent some United Nations member states from meeting the universal primary education and quality goals put forth.

November 21, 2014

In 2000, following the Millennium Summit of the United Nations, 189 governments agreed on eight international development aims to be completed by 2015, they are commonly referred to as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Around the same time the MDGs were created, the Education for All (EFA) initiative found that reaching their goals was absolutely critical in the attainment of all eight MDGs due to the direct impact education can have on children and their families.

2015 is quickly approaching and we are running out of time on our global quest to achieve universal primary education (UPE), improving all aspects of educational quality and learning outcomes, expanding early childhood education and care, ensuring all children have access to free and compulsory primary education, and see to it that gender disparities are eliminated.  That is not to say vast improvements have not been made, but there is still much work to be done.

Within the educational landscape the student is often the primary focus, but without teachers the learning outcomes and quality improvements will not grow. Teachers are an integral part of the large puzzle that intertwines the MDGs and EFA goals, and according to a recent UNESCO report published last month, the education sector is experiencing a teacher crisis that if left unaddressed could prevent some United Nations member states from meeting the universal primary education and quality goals put forth. Per the data gathered, countries will need to recruit a total of 4 million teachers to achieve universal primary education by 2015; the region facing the greatest challenges by a large margin is sub-Saharan Africa, which accounts for more than one-half (63%) of the additional teachers needed to achieve UPE by 2015 or two-thirds (67%) by 2030.[1] Additionally, in 30 of the 91 countries with data, less than 75% of primary school teachers were trained according to national standards, posing a huge problem to the education these children are receiving[2].

The IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRS), and the IDP Foundation overall, are very invested in the economic and educational development of sub-Saharan Africa. In Ghana, where the IDPRS Program was incubated and is actively expanding, basic and secondary education levels currently face a 60,000 teacher deficit after a mass layoff of untrained teachers[3]. This was all prompted by the Ghana Education Service (GES) and Ministry of Education (MOE) definition of a professional teacher as one who received training in a College of Education and maybe a University of Education, even when situations on the ground call for a second look at such limited definitions[4].

Impact Investing: What is it and how is it helping amplify IDP’s philanthropic reach


November 6, 2014

You may have noticed lately the increasing amount of attention directed towards a new investment market that centers on blending “conventional philanthropy and for profit investing, with the potential to create huge social impact,”[1] commonly referred to as impact investing. Impact investing is a way to address social needs such as poverty, education, unemployment and other Environmental, social and governance (ESG) concerns across the globe while providing competitive returns on the investment. Although it has been slow to take off, a Barron’s article published this week by Steve Garmhausen estimates that the current $46 billion-asset industry could reach $1 trillion by 2020.[2]

However, impact investing isn’t an entirely new concept; the model was previously used with social venture capital investments, which are undertakings by a firm or an organization established by a social entrepreneur that seeks to provide systemic solutions to achieve a sustainable social objective. [3]Often these funds provide the seed funding for for-profit social enterprises to achieve a reasonable gain in financial return. Impact investing differs in that it serves as a guide for various investment strategies that occur across asset classes, with the focus being on measurable and beneficial social impact in addition to seeking a financial return.

The IDP Foundation is committed to grant making and creating sustainable and scalable social impact initiatives as seen in the IDP Rising Schools Program. We are excited to now include impact investing as another way to put philanthropic dollars to work to generate even more positive change. We are proud that 80% of the investments of the corpus of the Foundation are mission aligned. Our diversified portfolio includes pure impact investments and positive and negative screened investments to ensure that we are holistically fulfilling the mission of the IDP Foundation to use philanthropy as a means to support sustainable investment in educational initiatives.  However, given that the impact investing space is still developing in terms of product offerings in the education sector, our investments also target environmental stewardship, human capital management, and sustainable community impact. The IDP Foundation is committed to finding new and innovative approaches to break the cycle of poverty, and we believe that impact investing is one such method of sustainably reaching the most deprived. We are excited to combine smart philanthropy with mission aligned impact investing that will significantly amplify our impact.

Education Suggestions Made To European Union Hit the Mark, But Fail to Clarify Where and How the Low Cost Private School Sector Fits Into the Conversation

Kumasi 010

October 23, 2014

Recently the head of the Plan EU office in Brussels, Alexandra Mackaroff, wrote a short piece for Devex on gender equality and put forth some recommendations for the European Union on ways to take action and combat growing inequality in developing nations.

Mackaroff runs through some very brief but impactful suggestions in her piece, such as targeted actions that promote and protect girls’ rights, pushing for improved data collection and monitoring to ensure aid is reaching the intended beneficiaries and having a significant impact, and country ownership at a political and social level to challenge institutionalized discrimination. Together these actions create an enabling environment that generates active and lasting change for the women and girls in that country.

Education is one such right that must be promoted and protected if we are to ever reach gender equity for girls in developing nations. It is one of the primary ways in which girls can gain the appropriate skills needed to not only be an active and engaged citizen, but to also successfully enter the labor market. Educating women has shown that it can also be a key element in breaking the cycle of poverty that may have plagued past family members.

According to Plan EU, 1 in 5 girls around the world is denied access to a quality education. If we have learned anything from the research surrounding women and education everywhere, it is that given the opportunity women are capable of amazing things and can quite literally transform the world around them.

The IDP Foundation has been committed to bringing the low-cost private school sector into the international education conversation since the start of the IDP Rising Schools Program that began in Ghana in 2009. Our program has been highly concentrated on ensuring the education of many rural students who might otherwise not obtain access to quality education; a large number of which are girls. We have remained faithful to ensuring women feel welcomed and supported in our program. To date, 55 women have completed our proprietor training, which accounts for almost 25% of those who have received a certificate of completion. Those 55 women were then given access to loans to better improve the schools they own.

40% of the teachers working in low cost private schools participating in the IDP Rising Schools Program are women, and a majority of them have taken on the passion of teaching without any formal education. Additionally, we have seen significant growth in the number of young girls attending the low-cost private schools that are in the IDPRS program. Currently, school proprietors’ data recordings estimate that around 30,619 Ghanaian girls are being educated through the low-cost private schools involved in our program. With this calculation, this means that girls just edge out boys slightly, with females occupying 51% of the total student population.

As the EU begins to think critically about the ways in which they are going to approach gender inequality in 2015 and beyond, we fully believe that the recommendations made by Mackaroff absolutely need to include the low-cost private school sector, as the number of girls being educated by these institutions will only continue to grow. If they are serious about closing the gender gap, they will have a policy platform dedicated to the recognition and inclusion of these schools in Ghana and in every developing nation.

Is Education For All Really “For All”?

Children in SchoolUN General Assembly Highlights Include Importance of Education for All

By: Jenna O’Brien

October 9, 2014

Every September, the international community descends on New York City to participate in the United Nations General Assembly. The month alone signifies change as we start to see flickers of the seasonal shift, but it also means something for the global landscape as we see so many world leaders come together to discuss the greatest needs around the globe.

According to Alice Albright, the CEO of the Global Partnership for Education, this year’s gathering “demonstrated a growing momentum to bring quality education to more of the world’s children” with “encouraging evidence of the education sector’s rise in prominence on the global development agenda.”[1]

Many of the meetings attended addressed the need for a stronger commitment on behalf of all countries to make quality education both equitable and inclusive. Additionally, First Lady Michelle Obama and Qatar’s Shikha Moza Bint Nasser both declared their support for quality education with additional efforts needed in giving more young women access to education.

We here at the IDP Foundation, Inc. are pleased with the increasing interest in the educational crisis the world is facing. However, we continue to push for the global dialogue to include the ever-growing low cost private school sector in order to ensure that children attending these schools receive a quality education too.

Educational institutions like Star Academy Preparatory & Junior High School in Mpoase, a community outside of Accra, despite meeting criteria required to become registered with the Ghana Education Service (GES), Star Academy does not receive government recognition or assistance.  This is where the IDP Rising Schools Program has stepped in to assist, by giving these proprietors access to capital through our micro-finance lending program in partnership with Sinapi Aba Trust.

Prior to our presence in Ghana, lending institutions were not serving the needs of low cost private school owners, and when Emmanuel Mills met with officials from Sinapi Aba Trust in late 2012, he felt our partnership would be the best option for his school and his students. He enrolled in the 9 week training program in financial literacy and school management in order to provide a better working and learning environment for his students and staff. Upon completion he was able to apply for a low interest loan, to improve the infrastructure of the school, and create a better learning environment for the students.

Today his enrollment has increased; he is serving both boys and girls in the area and helping to close the gender gap. Star Academy offers a Weighing Centre on campus, where community nurses from the Ministry of Health carry out routine clinic days for nursing mothers and their infant children. This is extremely important for the community, in addition to increasing the number of young girls being exposed to the academy. Despite their successes achieved with the help of the IDP Rising Schools Program, Emmanuel and his staff are in need of many other services, such as textbooks and teacher training, that the government should provide in order to ensure quality education for all of Ghana’s children.

As we begin to see the conversations about education increase amongst the world leaders and citizens, we mustn’t forget about the low cost private school sector in developing nations fighting to be recognized as contributing to the educational landscape.

Meet a Low-Cost Private School Proprietor: David Boakye

Sunyani_Unique Intl_proprietor office

Taking out a loan with IDPRS increased David’s effectiveness in his ability to lead his staff, manage the state of the school, strengthen the community, handle repayments responsibly, and even open a savings account through Sinapi Aba Savings and Loan.

September 12, 2014

In 2013, the University of Salford in Manchester along with the architects at Nightingale and Associates completed and released the results of a year-long pilot study that showed significant relevance between a well-designed learning environment and a student’s ability to reach their highest academic achievement.[1] Things like layout, color, natural light, temperature, and even air quality all could potentially play a part in the success of a student, which isn’t that surprising. But an important question to ask is, what classrooms are the readers thinking about? The ones they attended at public school? Maybe the ones their children attend at a private Montessori school? What about ones in rural Ghana?

Classrooms in developing nations are lacking adequate infrastructure, electricity, toilets, tables, and chairs, all of which are essential things that impact how well instructors teach and learners learn. Here at the IDP Rising Schools Program (IDPRS) we are making great strides in strengthening and supporting the growing low-cost private school sector in Ghana where 97% of loans are used for infrastructure improvements, land purchase, and vehicle acquisition or repair.

Meet David Boakye. David is one of our proprietor’s in Ghana who owns and oversees the Ultimate Prep School in the rural community of Chiraa in the Brong Ahafo Region. In 2009 David was in need of financial support to expand and build the school he had envisioned for his students. Through our microfinance partner, Sinapi Aba Trust, David began the process of obtaining a low interest loan in order to secure a parcel of land that would accommodate a four-block classroom and a temporal pavilion of four classes. Additionally, Ultimate Prep was in need of reliable transportation to ensure their students would be able to continue their education, since the parcel of land that was chosen was quite far from where many of the students reside.

Taking out a loan with IDPRS increased David’s effectiveness in his ability to lead his staff, manage the state of the school, strengthen the community, handle repayments responsibly, and even open a savings account through Sinapi Aba Savings and Loan. This is all part of the plan, as any proprietor who wishes to take out a loan with IDPRS is given extensive training in financial literacy and school management, creating sustainable change and the ability to prioritize for the future.

In 2011, Ultimate Prep had an enrollment of 300 pupils and they were officially registered with the Ghana Education Service. They plan on continuing to improve the infrastructure to support their increasing enrollment, which includes adding a male and female toilet, and focus on creating the best learning environment possible for students to achieve their highest potential.

[1] Rosenfield, Karissa.”Study Proves Design Significantly Impacts Learning” 03 Jan 2013. ArchDaily. Accessed 12 Aug 2014. <http://www.archdaily.com/?p=313736>


Meet a Low-Cost Private School Owner: Magdalene Sackey

PHIGA School“From the stories shared during the training program, I learned that I can make it”

July 18, 2014

Across Africa people face the challenge of securing land tenure. Ghana is just one example of a country where land rights are governed by legal pluralism, whereby customary, statutory and religious laws overlap in governing a single territory. This means that a territory may be considered customary land where Chiefs or other traditional authorities govern land rights, but they are still held accountable to constitutional and judicial law. In Ghana, there are there are 23 interconnected informal and formal institutions that constitute the maze of land administration in Ghana. Moreover, with 80% of land being customary in Ghana, challenges are heightened for women who oftentimes are not allowed to possess customary land titles.[1]

With such a complex system, land disputes are all too common, a clear issue when considering smallholder famers. As this Devex blog highlights, “Whether offered through a formal, state-managed tenure system or a customary system, farmers must be confident in their rights to access, use, and reap benefits from their land.  When smallholder farmers believe that their rights will be recognized and enforced, they can and often do make important investments.”[2]

However, this issue affects other sectors as well, such as the low-cost private school sector. Just as a farmer may be unwilling to invest in unsecure land, a school owner may be hesitant to invest in the school’s infrastructure. This is why the IDP Rising Schools Program offers Asset Acquisition loans that can be used to purchase land.

Meet Magdalene Sackey, the owner of Phiga School, which was established in 2004 in the Kaneshie community that resides just north of downtown Accra. Magdalene joined the IDP Rising Schools Program in November 2013 and completed her training in school management and financial literacy in January 2014, where Magdalene was not only taught be experienced loan officers, but also through the experience-sharing of other school owners. Magdalene says that, “from the stories shared during the training program, I learned that I can make it.”

In March 2014, Magdalene took a loan from Sinapi Aba, the implementing partner of the IDP Rising Schools Program. With her loan of 40,000 Ghanaian Cedis, Magdalene was able to purchase land which will enable her to construct a school structure and move Phiga School from the rented house where it currently operates. The purchase of land will not only provide greater stability and infrastructure for her 295 pupils, but also the reassurance to continue investing in Phiga School to make it the best environment possible for the children she so cares for.

PHIGA School BusIn addition to the impact of the loan on Magdalene’s school, she has also experienced dramatic improvements in her school due to the IDP Rising Schools Program training. Magdalene reports that her “confidence has skyrocketed.” By learning how to effectively manage her school finances, she has been able save enough to purchase a school bus. Moreover school fees and salaries for her 17 female and 5 male teachers are being paid on time. Implementing new management techniques has led to improved commitment on the part of teachers and greater support from parents and the surrounding community who are now proud to be part of Phiga School’s success story. Magdalene says she “will not stop learning and [will] also refrain from complacency.” She plans to continue seeking support from her peers and the team at Sinapi Aba when confronting any challenges and to ensure Phiga School’s continued development.

[1] Spichiger, Rachel; Stacey, Paul. “Ghana’s Land Reform and Gender Equality: DISS Working Paper 2014:01.” Danish Institute for International Studies. http://en.diis.dk/files/publications/WP2014/DIISWP2014-01_Ghana-land-gender_Rachel-Spichiger_web.pdf

[2] Kline, Nate. “Land tenure – a priority for a food-secure future.” Devex. https://www.devex.com/news/land-tenure-a-priority-for-a-food-secure-future-83856

Dr. Mo Ibrahim Presents at the Second Annual IDP Foundation/Irene D. Prtizker Distinguished Lecture on Social and Economic Development

Photo taken by the Foreign Policy Association

Photo taken by the Foreign Policy Association

June 25, 2014

Last year, the inaugural IDP Foundation/Irene D. Pritzker Distinguished Lecture on Social and Economic Development was delighted to bring forth Irina Bokova, Director General of UNESCO to present an insightful lecture about UNESCO’s role in promoting social and economic development. The second annual lecture hosted by the IDP Foundation, Inc., the Foreign Policy Association and the UN Economic and Social Council held earlier this month delivered another tremendous speaker in Dr. Mo Ibrahim.

Ibrahim discussed the importance of governance, accountability and outcomes measurement to drive the Post-2015 development agenda, highlighting that “in the absence of peace there is no development” and peace requires good governance. The Mo Ibrahim Foundation has done its part to promote strong governance and accountability through the development of the Ibrahim Index of African Governance, the most comprehensive collection of quantitative data on governance in Africa, and the Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership, which celebrates and rewards exceptional African leaders.

At the lecture, Dr. Ibrahim was awarded the Foreign Policy Association Medal, which recognizes individuals who demonstrate responsible internationalism and work to expand public knowledge of international affairs.

You can watch the full lecture here or read the highlights on Twitter.

New Research on the Low-Cost Private School Sector

School ChildrenJune 17, 2014

The IDP Foundation, Inc. is committed to collecting data from the low-cost private schools participating in the IDP Rising Schools Program and welcomes the contribution of additional research that highlights the important role this sector plays in providing Education For All. One such study conducted by Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and sponsored by UBS Optimus Foundation demonstrates that the vast proportion of children in four slum communities attain their pre-primary education in private schools serving the poor: Ashaiman (Accra, Ghana), Agege (Lagos, Nigeria), Mukuru (Nairobi, Kenya), and Soweto (Johannesburg, South Africa).  Specifically, the study found that 84% of children in the poorest quintile in Ashaiman are receiving a pre-primary education. Of children in preschool, 91% attend a private school.[1]

In a recent Huffington Post Blog featuring this study, the authors Maya Ziswiler and Reinhard Fichtl write that a “burgeoning and competitive market among private preschools suggests that this unique model could meet the needs of marginalized children and the aspirations of low-income parents dissatisfied by the weaknesses of government-provided pre-primary education.”[2] The IDP Foundation wholeheartedly agrees, but extends this statement to include primary and early secondary education. As the IPA study notes, more than 95% of children in private preschool attend a preschool which is attached to a primary school.

With discussions surrounding the Post-2015 education agenda in full swing, it is important include the low-cost private school sector in the provision of quality education for all. The IDP Rising Schools Program is providing low-cost primary private school owners with training in school management and financial literacy accompanied by microfinance loans in order to improve their quality. Additionally, the IDP Foundation has developed teacher training videos in partnership with Sesame Workshop to promote child-centered learning in primary level classrooms. However, for there to be a systematic improvement of the sector globally, additional attention is required by governments and funders.

Ziswiler and Fichtl state, “the Optimus Foundation intends to build on the existing movement and focus on improving the quality of these existing preschools rather than creating new ones.” The IDP Foundation is pleased to see other foundations begin to support these existing locally owned and managed schools serving the poor and will continue to actively advocate for their inclusion in the global education agenda.  

[1] Bidwell, Kelly; Watine, Loic. “Exploring Early Education Programs in peri-urban Settings in Africa.” Innovations for Poverty Action. 30 January 2014. https://poverty-action.org/sites/default/files/final_ecd_report_full.pdf

[2] Fichtl, Reinhard; Ziswiler, Maya. “Schools in Slums: A Surprising Number of the Poorest Kids Are Enrolled in Private Preschools. Huffington Post Blog. 29 May 2014. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/maya-ziswiler/schools-in-slums-a-surpri_b_5403563.html

Innovation Requires Iteration

ClassroomThe IDP Rising Schools Program and the Road to Social Impact

June 6, 2014

In their recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review, “The Re-Emerging Art of Funding Innovation,” Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux provide a thoughtful analysis of the exponential social impact made possible by philanthropists who are willing to take risk and incubate  innovative programs through their grantmaking. The IDP Foundation, Inc. (IDPF) strives to do just that by leveraging its flexibility as a private family foundation to take risks in hopes of proving a concept that will foster a pivotal shift in the global community’s approach to education. The success of the IDP Rising Schools Program motivates IDPF to continue taking risk in return for big reward.

The Problem

In 2008, Irene D. Pritzker, President of the IDP Foundation heard a very compelling speech by Professor James Tooley, the foremost researcher on low-cost private schools and author of The Beautiful Tree: A Personal Journey Into How the World’s Poorest People Are Educating Themselves. Professor Tooley spoke of the widespread emergence of private schools serving the poor which are established in response to the market demand from communities frustrated with the poor quality or lack of reach by government schools.

Despite these schools being defined by poor infrastructure and largely untrained teachers, parents choose to pay small fees for their children to attend low-fee private schools due to the better accountability and time on task that they offer. Despite their need, Professor Tooley discussed how this sector was ignored by governments and funders. Irene was inspired to find a solution to empower these schools to continue and improve their important work of educating the world’s poor children.

Teacher TrainingA Proposed Solution

Given Irene’s determination to find a sustainable solution to help these schools, she turned to the existing innovation of microfinance. However, she quickly discovered that banks determined the low-cost private school sector too risky and were not willing to provide access to credit to low-cost private schools. Rather than give up on her idea, she decided it was time to innovate. Recognizing that innovation does not require developing an entirely new idea, but oftentimes making an incremental change, Irene decided to figure out how to extend capital to the low-cost private school sector.

In partnership with Sinapi Aba Trust (SAT), a Ghanaian microfinance organization, the IDP Foundation determined that with intensive training in financial literacy and school management low-cost private schools would be able to take and repay microfinance loans.  After developing training and targeted loan products, the IDP Rising Schools Program was born and began strengthening the low-cost private school sector through inclusion in capacity-building and financial services to increase access to education in Ghana


As Gabriel Kasper and Justin Marcoux detail, funders introducing innovation into their work “seek out ideas with transformative potential, take risks on less proven approaches, open themselves up to exploring new solutions, and recognize that innovation requires flexibility, iteration, and failure.” [i]

Understanding that testing a new concept requires flexibility and testing along the way, the IDP Rising Schools Program was piloted in three stages. In this manner, IDPF and SAT were able to determine the ideal number of training modules, interest rate on loans, amount of mentoring required, refine the training content, and the best way to integrate the program into the normal operations of SAT. By allowing for iteration, IDPF and SAT now feel confident that the program is ready to scale in Ghana. Over the next two years, the Program will add 350 schools, which will impact an additional 91,000 pupils and expand the total reach to 589 school and 155,000 pupils.

The IDP Foundation and Sinapi Aba Trust will continue to collect feedback from school owners to make adjustments along the way and ensure the IDP Rising Schools Program continues to create the greatest social impact possible.